What Do Butterflies Do In the Winter?

You Don't See Butterflies in Winter So Where Do They Go?

Richie Alston
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You must’ve noticed that you rarely see butterflies flying around in winter. Why is that? This is because butterflies, like many insects, cannot stand the harsh winter cold. So, if they cannot cope with the rough winter climate, what do butterflies do in the winter?

During winters, butterflies enter a state that is similar to hibernation. In this state, butterflies become inactive, which is why you never see them around during winter. 

Adult butterflies find remote places to hide and rest during winter. Spots such as cracks in a tree’s bark or brick are common hiding spots for butterflies during winter.

During this time, they stop all secondary body functions such as reproduction or metabolism and only activate essential body functions to help them stay alive.

Special chemicals in a butterfly’s body provide an anti-freeze function to prevent them from ceasing up. As a way of protecting themselves from the harsh weather, butterflies naturally produce this anti-freeze chemical. They increase their overall glycerol levels and transform the water in their body into an anti-freeze, gelatin-like substance. 

Do Butterflies Hibernate in Winter?

Like many other insects, butterflies do not go into hibernation. However, they adopt dormancy during winter. This state is very similar to going into hibernation. During a dormant state, a butterfly tends to suspend all sorts of physical activities and takes a very inactive form. 

This dormant state is often referred to as diapause by many experts.

When in diapause, a butterfly, irrespective of the stage they are in their lifecycle, will cease to reproduce, evolve, or grow. Butterflies generally enter into a diapause right before autumn starts.

This is because, during this time, the temperature drops and days become shorter. Some butterfly species, such as the Yellowstone, go into diapause earlier, in July.

During the larval sand pupae stage of a butterfly, where they have taken the form of a caterpillar and chrysalis, respectively, they enter a hibernating stage during winter. This habit continues even when they develop into adult butterflies.

This is why you may have found some butterfly species such as the Peacock and Tortoiseshell hibernating in your house during winter.

Some butterfly species take on a very different approach during winter, where they migrate thousands of miles away to a warmer climate. One very common example of this is the Painted Lady butterflies. 

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Do Butterflies Die in Winter?

No, butterflies do not die in winter. Winters are too cold for butterflies, so you may never see them around when it’s cold. Since butterflies enter a state of inactivity, many people may think they have died.

However, eggs are vulnerable during winters and prone to damage if the adult butterfly doesn’t take adequate measures. During late autumn, these eggs are placed in leaf litter at a plant’s base, and they start hatching when spring arrives. 

Do Moths Die in Winter?

Like butterflies, most moths can survive the cold, winter months by sheltering in a protected spot and then entering an inactive stage called diapause.

Do Butterfly Eggs Survive in Winter?

Yes, butterfly eggs can survive winters. During this time, even the eggs enter into diapause and stop developing further. This is why not just the eggs but also the pupae and larvae are hidden in protected corners during winter.

You may also often find white pupae hanging on the walls of your house. 

The Purplish Sopper butterfly also overwinters while they are still eggs. They are attached to leaves and branches while they’re still eggs and spend the whole winter hanging from leaves or twigs.

The Baltimore Checkerspots spend the winters hibernating as caterpillars. As autumn comes, these caterpillars cover themselves with leaves at their host plant’s base.

As you can tell, each and every butterfly species has their own unique traits when it comes to surviving the colder months.  

Where Do Butterflies Go in the Winter?

To spend their diapause safely without worrying about predators attacking them, adult butterflies find secluded spaces, such as cracks, to spend their winters peacefully. Generally, caterpillars and eggs are placed near the host plants. 

Many groups of butterflies cannot stand winters at any point in their lifecycle. These butterflies migrate south as winter approaches. An example is the Monarch butterfly which undergoes a very long migration.

FAQs

Do you have more questions about butterflies and what they do in winter? Then check these out:

Why Do I See Butterflies Inside During Winter?

During autumn, butterflies will come into your home to seek shelter, often hidden from your sight. But, when the heating comes on in winter, they mistake it for the weather warming up and spring arriving which is why they can sometimes be seen flying around your home in winter.

When Do Butterflies Hibernate?

It is often said that butterflies hibernate in winter, but this isn’t wholly true. They enter a dormancy stage in winter, but this isn’t a true hibernation.


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